Still no decision on a freezer storage facility site for StarKist

Production resumes today for cannery workers, after weeklong shut down
fili@samoanews.com

The American Samoa Government is hopeful that StarKist Co. will decide soon on a parcel of land to build a new freezer storage facility, and resolve the fish supply issue to a significant extent, thus avoiding future closures to StarKist Samoa cannery operations, said Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele.

StarKist Samoa cannery production is scheduled to resume today, Monday, after it closed for one week due to fish supply shortage. According to a StarKist statement two weeks ago, production would resume when additional fish supply is received.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, StarKist corporate spokesperson Michelle Faist said last Friday morning that the American Samoa plant was expecting to have fish delivered over the weekend and “will run its operations starting” today, Aug. 28th.

StarKist Samoa, the largest private employer in the territory with some 2,000 workers,  issued a public notice that was aired on local broadcast stations since last Friday announcing that production is scheduled to resume today.

A handful of cannery workers, contacted last Friday and over the weekend by Samoa News for comments, all said they are thankful to be returning to work so they can get money to support their families.

One cannery worker, who asked not be identified, said Saturday, “every time there is a shutdown, it really hurts my family financially” and “we have kids going back to school on Sept. 5th.”

Other workers said many of them are very worried about the fish supply shortages because if it continues that means there will be future shut downs of production, causing more financial difficulties for their families.

FREEZER FACILITY

For many years, StarKist has been trying to secure land for additional freezer storage facility space and just recently, they were offered ASG land in Satala that was occupied by the old Satala power plant after the Lolo Administration denied the company’s request for space at the ASG owned shipyard facility — also in Satala.

When asked about the status of negotiations, Lafaele said StarKist is “considering options”  including the Satala land, where the old ASPA power plant was located. Lafele didn’t elaborate on “options” but said an “agreement will be discussed and reached if StarKist decides to take this lot.”

“We're hopeful StarKist decides on the matter soon so the necessary work to increase its cold storage capacity gets underway, and resolving the supply of fish issue to a significant extent thus avoiding future intermittent closure of operations,” Lafaele said over the weekend.

Faist didn’t immediately response to Samoa News inquiries — emailed last Friday —  regarding discussions and negotiations on the Satala land, previously occupied by the ASPA power plant.

StarKist has been requesting land to lease from ASG since the Togiola Administration.

BACKGROUND

In his 11-page cover letter, which includes the FY 2018 Basic Budget and FY 2018 Supplemental Budget, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga informed the Fono that last December’s closure of the Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., cannery “triggered shrinkage in our revenues for fiscal year 2017 with expected overflow into the early months of FY 2018.”

Lolo said it’s “important to remember and to take note” that the forecast revenues for FY 2018 “are predicted on the continued maintenance of StarKist’s current production and employment level.”

“If any of these two elements change downward, projected revenues will plummet reciprocally,” he said, adding that the same holds true of the Administration's five proposed revenue measures sent to the Fono last month for consideration and adoption.  (See Samoa News Aug. 22 and Aug 23 editions for details.)

The freezer facility is one of the issues in the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council staff report on “American Samoa Community Activities and Issues Report” released in June, this year.

The report notes that the Governor has made the decision not to lease ASG land at the shipyard to StarKist Samoa, but he did leave the door open for alternative sites to be leased, possibly land across the street from the shipyard at the old Satala power plant.

The justification cited by the governor for not leasing the shipyard land, according to the staff report, was that the Department of Interior would question ASG leasing land after investing large amounts of money in its development.

As previously reported by Samoa News and also cited in the staff report, the American Samoa Economic Development Authority bond sale funds were directed to go to the shipyard for a new building to be constructed for office space and workshops.

Additionally the government had also decided to commit $10 million to the Shipyard from Capital Improvement Projects funds, according to the report.

“However, the timing of this final decision to not lease StarKist Samoa space at the Shipyard is questionable as the company has been in negotiations with ASG over the space at the Shipyard for months,” according to the staff report.

The staff report indicated that during the Council’s American Samoa Advisory Panel meetings, “questions have been raised about the government’s commitment to the tuna industry given its lack of willingness to support the American Samoa longline fishery, and the adoption of the Port Scanner Fee legislation, which the government has decided StarKist must be subject to, despite an existing exemption status from such fees.

“Members of the Advisory Panel have questioned such decisions made by ASG, and the impact these decisions will have on the fishing industry that has been the backbone of the local economy for so many years,” the report says.

The staff’s report dealing with the Legislature says the added fee from the scanner equipment would cost StarKist millions of dollars.

“While the company is making its best effort to remain viable and continue to be the largest private employer of the territory, the government’s insistence on this fee schedule puts the company at a severe disadvantage,” notes the Council staff’s Legislature report, which covers issues relating to fisheries.

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